Bridge of Spies

Bridge of Spies is a 2015 Oscar-nominated film that tells the story of James Donovan, a New York insurance lawyer, who is assigned to represent a captive Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, and subsequently negotiate the exchange of Abel for Francis Powers, a US pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union while taking high-resolution photographs of secret Soviet strategic sites.

Here is a link to the trailer:


Set in 1960, the film explores both domestic cultural nuances and international security challenges of the Cold War.

Donovan’s household is a prime example of a nuclear family: white, middle-class, straight, and Christian. He is the breadwinner, she — the housewife. Their suburban utopia is closely intertwined with the constant reality of nuclear gaze: Donovan’s young son is shown trying to teach his father how to duck and cover in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. The film makes a point of demonstrating the uniformity of suburban lifestyle and everyone’s desire to conform to unspoken social norms.

On many occasions, the film illustrates the fear of the unknown that categorised that time period, and the binary logic that arouse from that fear: one could either be ‘with us, or against us’. So, when Donovan begins working on Abel’s case, general public is quick to label him a Soviet sympathiser, and even ‘red’. He begins to catch judgemental glances from commuters on the train, face condemnation from his coworkers, and even survives a hate-fuelled shooting attack on his household and family. The government also begins to question Donovan’s motives, even though they were the ones who assigned him the case in the first place. That like nothing else highlights the atmosphere of mistrust and fear in 1960s America.

This fear of the unknown is further demonstrated in the McCarthyist policies by which Abel is convicted. A suspicion of being ‘red’ was enough to be pronounced guilty, even in the absence of legally obtained evidence. The film demonstrates the importance of upholding appearances during the Cold War: it was more important to make Abel’s case seem like a fair trial, rather than actually provide one. In midsts of this ideological conflict, the US strove to preserve its moral high ground, and thus gain more influence and support both domestically and internationally.

Overall, Bridge of Spies is a very informational and entertaining movie.

Y’all should definitely watch it!


One thought on “Bridge of Spies”

  1. This certainly does seem like a very interesting movie, especially as it shows two sides of the consensus culture. What I really liked about your analysis was the mention of the binary logic, and how there is no in-between: as soon as you’re touched by Communism, you’re pretty much dead. It reminds me of the supposedly fluid nature of the Soviet Union; Donovan in the movie seems to be conceived by everyone else as someone whom the fluid could be able to infect and thus be removed.

    It’s rather sad, actually, how a movie like this could easily be considered subversive and denounced in the 50’s – and maybe even in the early 2000’s. And, ironically, it would be because of the same idea: consider the enemy’s viewpoints by the tiniest degree, and you’re a Soviet sympathizer who must be removed before you infect anyone else.


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